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Litter Picking with Joe Kernan

June 3, 2019

At the very root of our great association is the clubs that fuel the counties with the players, volunteers and the fans.

The clubs are often the heart of the community and act as a haven for members of the community and offer an escape from everyday life through various club activities

The clubs are the places where the legends of our game are born and no better club to provide an example is Crossmaglen. 

Most mornings I’m heading to school, I might call into Mona McEntee to get a bottle of water or to buy the Gaelic Life. 

Sometimes, I may run into John, or Tony, two of the best footballers that Armagh ever produced.

They’re legends in the community and the game, playing a huge role in the dominance of Armagh during the 2000s and Crossmaglen since the late 1990s. 

So, I could walk into a normal, newsagents and meet these two legends of both their club and county.

Then, that evening, I might go up to training with the minor team. 

I’ll most likely run into Stephen Kernan, who’s our joint manager and another prominent figure within the club and representative at county level, standing as one of the fundamental figures of the Crossmaglen team that reigned supreme for nearly 20 years, as well as the Armagh team that were fond of success during the 2000s. 

As a forward myself (well, I’m supposed to be), it’s quite a privilege to have such an experienced figure there to coach and guide myself and my teammates. 

The other manager is Thomas Cassidy, who stood at full-back for the county for many years and was one of the great defensive figures in our club while he was playing.

Having Marked the likes of The Bomber, Pat Spillane and Frank McGuigan, he’s another man of great experience that’s of great value within the club and the minor team. 

So far during this day, I’ve ran into 4 big, important and influential figures within the club.

The next day, I might be leaving school. Perhaps Oisin McConville may decide to call to his mother Margaret, another great club lady of note, who lives across the road. 

An encounter like this can often entail a pleasant greeting with one of the heroes of the 2002 Armagh All-Ireland Team.

I might see his nephew, Rian O’Neill, who is one of the most talked about footballers in the country right now, and could play a huge part in what could be a successful year for the Orchard Men.

An encounter with Rian will most likely consist of him not telling me anything in case I write it in the paper (His words, not mine!)

This just shows the level of closeness, intimacy and community among the people we call legends, heroes and stars, and the everyday members of the community.

A few months ago, the club organised a community clean up in the town and surrounding areas.

In good spirts, many club members gathered in the Rangers Hall on that Saturday morning and we embarked to make the community a cleaner place. 

Myself, Jimmy Traynor, Eugene Hanratty and Tomas Hughes embarked through Lissera lifting whatever litter entailed the roads. 

We filled a few black bin bags before Joe Kernan came around the corner to assess the progress.

“Right, Barry, you come with me”.

So I get in the jeep and myself and Joe Kernan go off and lift black bin bags full of litter. 

We got a van at the Hall and off we went.

Just as we turned to go down the Creamery Road, it dawned on me that I was sitting beside one of the most successful figures in GAA history, both as a manager and as a player. 

I availed of the opportunity and threw a few questions at him.

It was nice to hear stories from a figure with experience like he has. The tales of scoring 2 goals in an All-Ireland Final and still coming out on the bottom are ones tinted with regret and misfortune, but a great memory and experience none the less.

It was also nice to talk to him about marking Brian Mullins and Jack O’Shea. His direct experience with the two players leaves a stronger sense of authenticity and a feeling that you’re sitting beside a man who has been through so much as a player, which always generates a great ambience. 

As we were traveling down memory lane, we pulled up alongside his son Aaron, undoubtedly one of the best half backs to grace the game, well worthy of his place alongside Tomas and Paidi O’Se.

I often tell people about the time that he complimented one of my performances at a game one night, when I scored a point straight after coming off the bench.

It’s my Seamus Darby moment (the only difference is my head said goal, but my feet said point)

Another exchange of greetings with yet another legendary figure in this wonderful community. Does it stop? 

No.

I may need a lightbulb for my room. 

Where else would I go only down to Bellew’s Electrical, where I might run into none other than Francie, one of the greatest full-backs of all time.

A gentle figure, you’re often amazed by his quiet persona and find it hard to believe that this is the man who once put manners on the Gooch and Mickey Linden. 

These tales are excellent examples of just how close the GAA and the community are linked, and it’s amazing.

That’s one of the things I adore and love most about the association, the players, these figures that the public adore, the figures that we see on the TV, we could see the next day walking down the street.

You could decide to buy a house in Monaghan, you could walk into Gerry-Fitzgerald in Monaghan town and you could be dealing with Conor McManus.

If you’re down in Kerry, you could walk into an AIB branch and catch a glimpse of Gooch.

You might want to learn how to drive.

Who else to teach you other than Mickey Linden, one of the greatest corner-forwards of his generation (I could do with a few other lessons from him, if I’m honest!)

A friend of mine used to encounter Diarmuid Connolly and John Small in the sports complex down in UCD in Dublin.

Ask yourself, what’s the chances of running into Messi if you’re in Barcelona, or Ronaldo if you’re in Turin?

Highly unlikely. 

Within the GAA, every player is somebody’s neighbour, friend, colleague, teacher or fellow club person.

At the end of it all, when we’re in our clubs, we’re all the same. 

All volunteers and members of our wonderful organisation. 

It’s quite a statement to be proud of. 

I’ve a lot of tales and encounters with wonderful characters and figures.

But I have to say, the fact I went litter picking with Joe Kernan is one to savour. 

Barry McAllister

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